Fall Knits: Felted Pumpkin

It’s not  Halloween yet, but Fall is most definitely here, and Thanksgiving’s waiting in the wings.  I don’t like most of the Halloween patterns that I found while surfing, but these little beauties are more sophisticated than most of what’s out there. They are knitted in segments, sewn together, and then felted. I made four in orange, gold, and rust, and for the tops, I felted an old dark green sweater and cut out the shapes. Came out great!

pattern

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Fall Knits: Color Theory Cowl

Image of Color Theory Cowl

Isn’t this pretty? Saw this pattern a few days ago in the Lion Brand newsletter.  I don’t especially like to do stranded knitting, and don’t usually wear cowls, but this one is so pretty that it keeps coming back to mind. So, I think I’m going to make at least one, as a Christmas gift, and possibly one for myself. The yarns are new, two of merino and two of cashmere. Knit in the round, on 16 inch size 6 (US) needles. Everything you need is available here.

Espenson Drapey Tunic

Linen has become a new favorite of mine, since last year when I knitted  Espenson, shown here, and liked it so much that I made another in a different colorway. The yarn is Berroco’s Linsey, a linen/cotton mix, which knits up with great body and drapiness and comes in yummy solids and color blends. My first version looks exactly like the photo, an outcome that always makes me happy, but is never a sure thing!

Pattern available here

Wool Dyeing: Copper Penny Blue

This dye substance is not a plant, but it would have been available in one form or other to many colonial home dyers. Known as “Copper Penny Blue”, this is a dye that does not need a separate mordant or even heat. The recipe is simple but it does take from 2-4 weeks for the process to complete itself. Fill a gallon jar to about three inches from the top with non-sudsing ammonia and put in: either 2 cups of pennies, OR a length of copper pipe OR a coil of copper wire. Screw the lid on tightly. Let this mixture sit for a week and watch it become a beautiful blue. At this point remove the copper , with rubber gloves, and put in the pre-wetted fleece to soak; varying the time gives different color effects. It is also possible to do this with white vinegar instead of ammonia. Some recipes say to add a few teaspoons of salt to fix the color.

I’ve used this method several times with different results. One was a pale aqua, and the others various shades of icy green. I think it might be more reliable to use wire or pipe as the amount of copper in pennies these days is so small. Dyeing times, once the dye is made, have ranged from 1 day to 3 weeks of soaking the wool fiber. If you leave the jar in the sun it speeds the process somewhat. I would NOT try heating the mixture on a stove or fire, however.

Plants for dyeing: Pokeweed

pokeweed It’s mid August, which means that the berries on the pokeweed bushes that grow around here will soon be ripe.  Pokeweed is shrub that commonly grows in dry, neglected areas. In New England, it generally blossoms in mid-summer and sets fruit in September. Throughout history, pokeweed has had several uses. One of the first plants to show itself in spring, young shoots were gathered, boiled and eaten as a tonic after the long, cold winter. As the plant matures, however, parts of it become poisonous.

The Algonquins called this plant puccoon, which means “plant used for stains or dyes.” An English name for the same plant is “inkberry”, and in my museum classes I sometimes have kids pick, mash, and write with pokeberry. Though technically a berry, which provides a stain rather than a dye, pokeweed can be used to color wool a rich shade of magenta. Unfortunately, stains fade a discolor rather quickly, and are definitely not as colorfast as true dyes. (Think of what happens on that white T shirt that gets blueberry or strawberry stains on it. )

For that reason, I have only used pokeweed to color my yarns a few times. While alum mordant is usually pretty effective with plant dyes, I have not found that it works well at all with pokeweed. My best results and truest, deepest colors have been achieved using white vinegar as mordant.

Pokeweed dyepot:

This is a simple recipe. For a pound of yarn, pick a large paper grocery bag full of pokeweed berries. Crush them until the juice runs, combine with about 1/2 gallon of water in a suitable steel or glass container. Pour in about 1 cup of vinegar. Submerge presoaked yarn skeins into dyebath, raise to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 1/2 hour. Allow yarn and dyebath to cool. Rinse yarn in cool water, allow to air dry.

If you try this yourself, I’d love to hear about your results.

Fiber Folklore: Baa, Baa, Black Sheep

Baa, baa, black sheep,

Have you any wool?

Yes marry, have I,

Three bags full;

One for my master,

One for my dame,

But none for the little boy

Who cries in the lane.

This nursery rhyme probably dates to the Middle Ages, when England was the major player in the international wool trade. A tax had been placed upon wool, with 1/3 going to the”master” (local lord), 1/3 to the “dame” (the church), and the rest (or none?) to the “little boy” in the lane (local farmer). In recent years it has become a subject of controversy, with early childhood teachers converted black sheep to rainbow sheep to avoid any hint of racism.

The color of the sheep in the rhyme must also be of some significance. Black wool is difficult to dye and would therefore seem to have little use in making textiles. However many shepherds prized black fleece and kept one dark sheep in a flock of white ones. When the fiber was carded for spinning a little of the black was mixed in with the white to produce a light-grey wool. The cloth made from ‘grey’ wool was believed to be warmer and more weather proof than that made from only white fleece. Unlike the pure black wool it could be easily dyed.

On the other hand, a single black ram could contaminate the whiteness of a flock’s fleece. This is probably the source of the unflattering phrase, “black sheep of the family.” The first record in print is from Charles Macklin’s The man of the world, a comedy, 1786:

“O, ye villain! you – you – you are a black sheep; and I’ll mark you.”

I’m not sure that a breed of sheep with pure black wool actually exists.  In days of yore, a “black” sheep was any sheep that wasn’t white. Most  dark fleeces have at least a tinge of noticeable brown or gray in their fleece. If anyone knows of a pure black, I’d like to see a picture and know the breed. Maybe the Welsh Mountain sheep?